Communications, Information Systems Drive Bulgaria's Military Reform

April 1999
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The former Warsaw Pact nation is embracing Western methodologies as it seeks to join the Atlantic alliance.

The Republic of Bulgaria is tapping the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for ideas, tactics and technologies as it restructures its military to serve European security needs in the coming century. The goal of this effort is to be a functional European security partner as a full member of the Atlantic alliance, and at the center of the thrust is development of a robust command, control, communications and computers infrastructure.

The former Warsaw Pact nation already is reshaping its military along Western democratic lines of civilian control and privatization. It is redefining its command structure to facilitate interoperability with alliance members and other European nations in a range of missions. And, a formal defense plan now taking shape aims to plot Bulgaria’s military development according to available resources and likely obligations if the nation is invited to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the next round of alliance enlargement, as Bulgarian government officials hope will occur.

Dr. Velizar Shalamanov, deputy minister of defense, Republic of Bulgaria, explains that Bulgaria views NATO as an organization in transition that continues to provide stability and prosperity to its members and the region. In a SIGNAL interview, he says that the alliance has proved its capability to solve security problems, even in the post-Cold-War military strategic environment that defies easy definition and control.

The deputy defense minister cites statements by the country’s president that describe Bulgaria’s outlook on NATO and its desire for membership. Among these is the declaration that Bulgaria wants to be part of the society of countries with democratic values and respect for human rights. This assertion goes beyond the security aspect of alliance membership to a broader aspect, that of being part of the society of free nations.

“We want to be providers of security, not only consumers,” Shalamanov relates.

With that in mind, Bulgarian government officials are pursuing a dual-track approach to NATO integration. The country is participating in Partnership for Peace activities to learn alliance methodologies and to increase familiarity among NATO members. It is hosting the inaugural headquarters of the Southeastern Europe Brigade, a regional multinational peacekeeping force comprising Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Romania and Turkey. For its first four years, this brigade will be headquartered in Plovdiv.

All told, Bulgaria has signed framework agreements and annual programs with 31 countries. They include all NATO members and Bulgaria’s neighbors except the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. These experiences are helping Bulgarian defense planners determine the shape of the country’s future military infrastructure relative to its responsibilities in European security.

Shalamanov’s area of responsibility is military policy and planning. This covers international cooperation, the process of potential integration with NATO, preparing a planning guidance for the country’s general staff on behalf of the minister of defense, and assessment of plan implementation.

Shalamanov emphasizes that command, control, communications and computers (C4) is only a small part of his responsibilities. It is, however, one of the most important parts.

His office is drafting a plan for implementing programs and allocating resources. The deputy minister for budget and financing will assess this plan, after which the ministry will assemble a package of programs to be pursued over the next two years.

This represents a major change in defense planning, Shalamanov states. Until now, most planning was bottom-up, beginning with troops and the general staff and moving up to higher levels. As a result, Bulgaria lacked a strong framework to build a model of its future armed forces. Shalamanov explains that the ministry is now working closely with Maj. Gen. Henry Kievenaar, USA, to establish an effective defense planning system with modeling capabilities that allow the ministry to change direction and begin top-down planning.

The ministry will apply the results of this study to three aspects of Bulgaria’s defense restructuring. These cover rewriting all regulations to be in compliance with those of NATO, training personnel on these new regulations, and forming all necessary structures to comply with these new regulations.

This type of restructuring is emblematic of Bulgaria’s defense efforts to prepare itself for potential NATO membership. The country is looking to NATO nations for advice in both organizational and technological areas. Gen. Kievenaar, who is assisting the ministry in its reform efforts, serves under Gen. Wesley K. Clark, USA, supreme allied commander Europe. A defense resource management model provided by the United States forms a key part of Bulgaria’s defense planning system.

Shalamanov describes this broad effort as re-engineering. From this program, Bulgaria seeks to build a transition model that will acclimate it to the new military strategic environment of coalition peacekeeping and military operations other than war. “The main goal of this re-engineering project is to prepare building blocks that can be used flexibly in different missions, especially unpredictable [ones],” Shalamanov states.

He cites the U.S. approach of employing mission capabilities packages for military planning. Bulgaria’s goal is to be prepared for participation in joint task force operations for a variety of situations.

The biggest challenge facing Bulgaria’s military establishment is to change its model of thinking, Shalamanov declares. In this vein, communications and information systems play a key role.

“New C4 technology is not only technology, but also a tool to change the way of thinking,” he warrants. “It is a tool to change the model of command and control, of the decision-making process, and of control of forces. It is a new environment where new military models can be implemented. This technology changes the structure, all the training procedures, the control procedures, and overall capabilities of military forces. It will permit us to reduce the number of large industrial-age forces and focus our efforts on more effective, flexible, decentralized forces.

“This is the challenge: to change the way of thinking about military operations, about military missions, and about the structure and way to train military forces,” he emphasizes.

Many Bulgarian officers and officials are undergoing C4 training in the United States at sites such as Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, and Fort Gordon, Georgia. Shalamanov adds that others may be headed to the National Defense University’s Information Resources Management College at Fort McNair, Washington, D.C., to learn about new directions in developing a C4I architecture and achieving interoperability. “With this team of very capable people, we will be able to make C4 activity a kernel of our military policy for integration,” he offers.

The ministry’s defense policy and planning sector is creating a C4 section under a new defense planning directorate. This section is designed to include a situation center and plans and policy cells. Its work with U.S. experts aims at generating Bulgaria’s policy for the development of the military’s information infrastructure, along with the implementation plan.

Plans call for establishing an interoperability studies and training center, under ministry of defense direction, at the Rakovsky Defense College in Sofia. This center would comprise three elements. One would focus on analyses of lessons learned in international cooperation, participation in exercises and in training. This would create conditions for assessing priorities based on experience gleaned through cooperative efforts with NATO nations. A second element would provide specialized foreign language training, including language proficiency certification. The third element would focus on national security and interoperability courses for issues such as a national security system; a defense planning system; information assurance; leadership, re-engineering and information technologies; organization and the command and control structure of combined joint task forces; and an early warning and crisis management system.

Shalamanov stresses that developing the country’s new C4 architecture is one of the most important tasks in reforming Bulgaria’s armed forces. This new architecture must follow NATO operational system and technical standards. Key elements in its development include increasing network bandwidth, digitizing communications, introducing satellite communications, establishing secure data transmission channels, and incorporating software that is compliant with NATO operational procedures.

To attain these C4 goals, Bulgaria has several projects underway. A national situation center for consultation and crisis management is being designed to connect—at first on a case-by-case basis—with NATO’s integrated crisis management system. Another effort focuses on a field-integrated communications and information system for immediate-reaction and rapid-reaction forces. This system would be open for evolutionary development and extension. In addition, the air force would receive a new airspace control, navigation and identification friend or foe system.

The country also is developing an automated information system for the ministry of defense and military headquarters, starting with the general staff and extending down to brigade level. This system would provide electronic mail, World Wide Web services, a database, document flow control/groupware and teleconferencing, along with a geographic information system for interfacing to the database, decision-support tools, and specialized function applications.

The existing automated system would be integrated under a joint technical architecture to establish the defense information infrastructure. This would allow combining state-of-the-art, commercial off-the-shelf and legacy systems.

Bulgaria’s approach is to mix commercial and military technologies and systems to meet its C4 needs. “Everywhere it is possible, we are using commercial equipment and software,” Shalamanov warrants. “It is cheaper; technology upgrading is easier; interoperability is guaranteed; and maintenance is easier. Even leasing equipment for certain activities is possible. The percentage of commercial technologies used in military systems is increasing rapidly.” He cites the automated information system for the ministry and the military headquarters as an example of a C4 system relying on both commercial and military elements.

Shalamanov allows that Bulgaria does not have the capability to develop all necessary aspects of its C4 requirements. The main role of the country’s research and development organizations involves system integration. It does have indigenous capabilities in some areas, including radio jamming, ultra high frequency/very high frequency radio gear, radar equipment, and software that addresses country-specific aspects of its command and control structure. Also, the country’s law concerning defense and the armed forces requires that Bulgaria develop its own C4I systems for intelligence and personnel.

The country is seeking external solutions for a number of areas, however. These include satellite communications; air and navy navigation; global positioning; network equipment; and system, office and teamwork software. Bulgaria is looking for international cooperation in C4 system standardization and testing; development of large-scale C4 systems; and C4 personnel training.

It has signed a contract with Italy’s Marconi Communications to build a field-integrated communications and information system for all Bulgarian forces that are preparing to operate in the combined joint task force environment. Harris Corporation is a U.S.-based subcontractor in this effort, which will address Bulgaria’s needs in a mechanized brigade, an engineer battalion, a nuclear/biochemical battalion and a nuclear/biochemical reconnaissance company.

U.S.-based Bell Helicopters is selling the country six Bell 206 helicopters, which Shalamanov describes as a big investment. The multipurpose helicopters will be used for reconnaissance, transportation, medical evacuation, search and rescue, and rapid reaction force deployment.

Bulgaria is developing a digital terrain model in a 1:100,000 scale that could be used to prepare operational/tactical missions. It is being designed for use by NATO forces during operations. The country is also working to establish a codification system and a national codification bureau based on NATO standards.

By July, after studies and cooperative committees have reached conclusions, the country will have a clear set of priorities for modernization. The government is committed to establishing a national priority for integration, with funding to be earmarked for improving interoperability among its armed forces.

The post-Cold-War era introduced a host of unconventional security threats to Eastern and Central Europe. Foremost on Bulgaria’s watch list, according to Shalamanov, is regional instability. Bulgaria abuts Yugoslavia, in which the troubled Kosovo region lies about 30 miles from the two nations’ border. Shalamanov relates that Bulgaria has been actively supporting NATO during the Kosovo crisis. It has offered an An-30 aircraft for open sky operations, and it also has been willing to provide 22 officers for Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ground verification missions.

Tension and instability in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania also pose concern as they generate refugee flows, arms transfers and ethnic conflicts. Participating in the Dayton Accords Stabilization Force, Bulgaria has deployed an engineer platoon in a Dutch battalion and a transportation platoon in a Greek logistic group. “For us, [the threat is] some ethnic or religious tension around our country that could provoke some kinds of military or paramilitary activity,” Shalamanov warns.

Other security threats cited by Shalamanov include organized crime, terrorist activity and arms smuggling, especially of weapons of mass destruction. Bulgaria also risks being caught unprepared for threats emerging from the new information society.

As part of its effort to increase its involvement with NATO operations, Bulgaria aims at participating in a simulation network to facilitate officer training and to establish a Partnership for Peace training center in Bulgaria for specialized English. Shalamanov states that the country wants to improve its participation in the U.S. foreign military sales programs, especially in C4 and air defense. “We want to provide the opportunity for Bulgaria to be a more effective contributor to NATO and U.S. air forces in their efforts at stabilizing the region,” he declares.


Dr. Velizar Shalamanov, deputy defense minister of the Republic of Bulgaria, is a former Distinguished Young AFCEAN.